Washington Post editorial board takes 20 year U-turn on private school vouchers

A potentially dangerous change in opinion by the Washington Post editorial board revealed itself the other day in a column entitled, “The Supreme Court is eroding the wall between church and state.” The piece was decrying the United States Supreme Court’s decision regarding Washington State high school football coach Joseph Kennedy, who once led religious prayers at the fifty yard line after games. The Post editors commented on the court’s finding in Mr. Kennedy’s favor this way:

“A conservative Supreme Court majority is redefining the constitutional order — dismissive of Americans’ privacy rights, committed to dangerous pro-gun dogmas and, as the court showed twice this month, alarmingly permissive of mixing religion and government.”

It is not the newspaper’s opinion on Kennedy v Bremerton School District that I find worrisome. It is the concluding paragraph in its editorial that generates concern:

“Along with another court decision earlier this month, in which the justices ordered the state of Maine to finance tuition at religious schools under a statewide voucher program, the majority appears determined to rule in favor of those seeking to use government resources to advance their religious beliefs — and against those who object to dismantling the wall between church and state.”

Now, here is the problem. The United States Supreme Court has been a defender of the right of parents to utilize private school vouchers in sectarian institutions beginning in 2002, with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the case in Cleveland, Ohio won by Clint Bolick when he worked for the Institute for Justice. Before that ruling was issued the editorial board made this argument:

“In principle, there is no reason why a carefully designed voucher program should offend the Constitution. The money is given to parents, not directly to schools, and it flows to schools only as a function of parental choices about where to send their children. In this sense, vouchers are not all that different from other programs the court has already upheld — though approving them is a step the justices have not previously taken. The key is for the justices to avoid using a broad principle that would allow more direct aid to parochial schools.”

The Post started writing editorials supporting school choice programs involving religious schools following my meeting with columnist Colbert King in the summer of 1999 in which I asked him to publicly argue in favor of a private school voucher plan for the District of Columbia. Mr. King was the deputy editorial page director from 2000 to 2007. This backing was critically important since public policy makers, include Supreme Court Justices, often read the Washington Post. The role of this newspaper in the national fight for increased school choice was recognized by Mr. Bolick in his book Voucher Wars in the aftermath of the Post editors coming out in opposition the the Milwaukee school voucher program:

“And only a few years later, the Post abandoned its reticence and became one of the nation’s most consistent and influential backers of school choice experiments,” (page 58).

The newspaper has stayed the course for two decades. Last year, the editorial board wrote one of its strongest defenses of school choice reacting to Congressional attempts to shutdown Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in a piece entitled, “Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor children a choice in schooling?” Please pay careful attention to the reference to religious schools.

“It is striking how some foes of the scholarship program — and here we think of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — see no inconsistency in their opposition to this program and their support for the $40 million DC Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides funds for college. Like the opportunity scholarship program, DC TAG can be applied to private schools in the metropolitan area, including religious schools, but unlike the opportunity scholarship program, wealthy families (with incomes up to $515,000) are eligible. Where is the logic in supporting a tuition assistance program available to affluent D.C. families and not one that only benefits very low-income D.C. families? To be sure, the quality of the city’s public schools has improved since the program was enacted — perhaps in part due to competition from school choice — but that doesn’t mean that poor parents deserve no choice in where their children go to school.”

The Washington Post’s editorial board’s recent missive on the U.S. Constitution’s separation between church and state is potentially an extremely menacing precedent.

The education of George Parker, past president Washington Teachers’ Union

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference last week in Washington, D.C. It was an extremely well organized event, and I have to say that it brought tears of joy to my eyes to be among over 3,500 attendees meeting back in person. The last time that the Alliance did not hold their conference virtually was in 2019. It was amazing to hear so many participants talk passionately about the power of school choice.

My itinerary took me to three early morning lectures on the topic of charter school advocacy by former D.C. Teachers’ Union president George Parker. Mr. Parker explained to the audience that he had taught mathematics in traditional D.C. middle and high schools for thirty-three years before becoming head of the union in 2005. He held that position during the most transformative years of education reform in the nation’s capital. Adrian Fenty was elected Mayor in 2006 and he appointed Michelle Rhee the first Chancellor of DCPS upon taking office in 2007. By 2010, Mr. Parker, Mr. Fenty, and Ms. Rhee would all be out of their respective positions.

Mr. Parker would be voted out of his leadership post as a result of working with Ms. Rhee to reduce the power of teacher seniority and implement the IMPACT evaluation system that tied raises to student academic achievement. Both were groundbreaking highly controversial moves that would eventually be replicated throughout the nation. His cooperation with Ms. Rhee earned him the attention of American Federation of Teachers’ head Randi Weingarten, who, he informed those in the room, tried to sabotage his efforts.

The logical question is how did the president of a teachers’ union become a charter school supporter? Mr. Parker’s explanation sent a chill through those of us in the room. He related that as part of his role with the WTU he would sometimes get the opportunity to speak in front of students. After one such assembly a girl in the third grade came up to him and gave him a hug. He thought the action of the student was unusual, and so he asked her why she had approached him in this fashion. The pupil replied that it was because he stated that he would always work to support those in the classroom.

It was when he was driving in his car after the talk that Mr. Parker had a stunning realization. He faced the stark fact that he had just lied to these young people. He recalled that just that morning he had spent over $10,000 of union membership money to get an individual who should never have been teaching back in that role. He bravely decided on the spot to end his hypocrisy.

Mr. Parker’s story stands in sharp relief to the words of Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. In an article yesterday entitled, “Don’t blame teachers unions for bad schools. Worry instead about inertia,” he writes,

“So, unions, like most of us, can be helpful or hurtful. But are they quashing attempts to make our schools better, as the [Wall Street] Journal suggests? My reporting on the most productive school reforms indicates they are not doing that.”

It is an abject affront to reality for Mr. Mathews to make this claim so I am not going to waste any words refuting his declaration. As Mr. Parker pointed out in one of his talks, “Unions do not have a fear of spreading false information.”

The world right now needs many more George Parkers.

Joe Bruno retires as founding president and CEO of Building Hope

Word just came across my email from Joe Bruno that after founding Building Hope twenty years ago he plans on retiring as president and CEO in 2023. Bill Hansen will succeed Joe at the organization.

I have known Joe for most of the two decades that he has led Building Hope. The period that I worked most closely with him was around 2012 during the acquisition of a permanent facility for Washington Latin PCS. At the time, Washington Latin was operating in three temporary sites, two of which were churches. As with any charter school facility project there were many ups and downs to being selected to take over the former Rudolph Elementary School in Ward 4 when I was chair of the school’s board. I remember going to visit former Ward 4 Councilperson Muriel Bowser at the Wilson Building with him to convince her that our school should be awarded the building through a Request for Proposal. Mayor Vincent Gray had another group in mind for the property. With Joe’s help we prevailed.

However, that was only the start. For weeks our board of directors and school leaders could not figure out the finances to cover the cost of the approximately $20 million dollars needed to renovate the former DCPS structure. I recall like it was yesterday being summoned over to Building Hope’s headquarters on 17th Street N.W. where Joe presented to me his out-of-the-box financial structure so that we could make our dream a reality for over 600 students from all eight of the city’s wards.

What he did for Washington Latin he had accomplished, and would continue to accomplish, for charters throughout the nation’s capital. It is really impossible to understate his contributions. When our movement started over twenty-five years ago banks could not understand what a charter school was much less imagine lending them money. Joe was able to convince them that not only should they provide funding but demonstrated that charters were one of the safest places to invest their resources.

His large warm Italian personality was always prominently on display at his home in Potomac where he held his annual Christmas parties for those of us involved locally in this exciting and critical mission to provide every child in D.C. a seat in a high quality classroom. I am sure he viewed what we were doing as one of the last civil rights struggles in America. However, I do not think he would ever mutter those words. He just kept doing what he did, finding buildings for schools that had little or no prior history, reputation, or cash. They simply had bold visions.

So many individuals I consider my heroes made the pilgrimage to Joe’s abode during those cold and dark winter nights, a coat in hand for the less fortunate kids in our community that was the admission price for the holiday event. It was not something you questioned doing. We went, to be a part of a celebration of Joe’s efforts.

Bill Hanson appears to be perfectly qualified as the next head of Building Hope. From today’s press release announcing the appointment:

“Mr. Hansen comes to Building Hope with extensive experience in the corporate, government, investment, social impact, philanthropy, and policy sectors. While serving as President and CEO of the Strada Education Network, he created the $2 billion national social impact fund, an organization that is dedicated to helping learners build more purposeful pathways to and from postsecondary education and into rewarding careers. Mr. Hansen was initially appointed as President and CEO of USA Funds, the nation’s largest guarantor of student loans, which he successfully managed and transitioned from its legacy business, and in doing so, created the platform to launch Strada.”

For a short period I went weekly to Joe’s house to join in a three-on-three basketball game held on his indoor hardwood playing field. I had to stop because afterwards I returned to my residence completely physically exhausted. It was impossible to keep up with Joe, on or off the court.

Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss completely misrepresents upcoming U.S. Supreme Court school choice decision

Last week, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote one of her “Answer Sheet” columns that was titled “Supreme Court Likely to Drop School Voucher Bombshell.” Ms. Strauss is referring to the case Carson v. Makin which will be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. Here is a summary of the case: Maine issues educational scholarships to children to attend private schools when there is no local public school in the area in which they live. However, it prevents these vouchers from being used at religious institutions because the State believes it would then be violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Post reporter goes into hysterics to describe what would happen if the court decides in favor of the parents:

“In Carson v. Makin, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court is likely to require Maine officials to use public funding to subsidize religious teaching and proselytizing at schools that legally discriminate against people who don’t support their religious beliefs. A ruling in favor of the families would ‘amount to a license to outsource discrimination,’ according to Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education.”

She goes on:

“Welner also wrote that a ruling against the state could affect charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. A Carson ruling in favor of the families may mean that states could be seen as ‘engaging in discrimination if they did not allow a church or religious entity to operate a publicly funded charter school as a religious school.’”

I was not exaggerating, was I? There are just three problems with her reasoning. The Supreme Court now has a perfectly consistent record of allowing public funds to go to religious institutions when they are providing a public function.

Year 2002: The Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that parents could utilize private school vouchers to send their children to religious schools. The logic behind this finding was that the money for educating the students is going to the parents, not to support the school.

Year 2017: The Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., vs. Comer that funds Missouri was providing to enhance playgrounds at public schools could not be prevented from going to private religious institutions. As I pointed out at the time, the majority opinion stated that, “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” 

Year 2020: The Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a Montana tuition school tax credit program could be utilized for children to enroll in parochial schools. In my post about this decision I included Chief Justice John Roberts’ comment that “The application of the no-aid provision discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

So now we have Carson. If history is any guide, then the Court will find in support of the Maine parents. By the way, this case, as well as Espinoza and Zelman were all argued by the libertarian Institute for Justice. Here comes another victory for this highly impressive group.

One final point. I have no problem with a charter school having a religious mission. I made the same argument when Center City PSC was created from the conversion of six Catholic schools. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would support my point of view.

Public school reform advocates should vote for Muriel Bowser for D.C. Mayor

I have to admit that Robert White Jr.’s comments on public education scare me. As WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle pointed out, when the Mayoral candidate was asked during a May 4, 2022 debate as to whether schools should remain under the control of the city’s chief executive, he apparently answered in this way:

“We need a mayor who’s not just going to go to the easy talking points, but who’s going to get in the details. And this mayor has not gotten into the details. And that’s why she doesn’t have a clear understanding of why so many students are leaving our schools. Right now, 30% of elementary school students leave D.C. Public Schools before middle school. There is an urgent problem, and we need a mayor with a sense of urgency on public education.”

Mr. White’s vague answer on this critical issue brought a strong response from current Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to the WAMU reporter:

“D.C. residents want a mayor they can trust. And if your answer shifts depending on which way the wind blows, they can’t trust you with their kids. And the most important thing you have to do as mayor is provide mayoral leadership of the schools. I think it is a seminal issue in this race. And I think what we’ve heard are councilmembers who are equivocating and waffling. I’m straight forward.”

For close observers of the education scene in the nation’s capital, the unified opinion is that we cannot move backward to the time when the D.C. Board of Education ran the public schools. Going to a public school was dangerous then, and there was a distinct lack of pedagogy going on in the classrooms. The buildings were crumbling literally and figuratively. We just cannot allow this to happen after so much progress.

Mayor Bowser has been a supporter of public education reform but has not been as strong as charter school advocates have desired. She has consistently annually raised the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, the baseline money allocated each year to teach a student, but has lagged in her willingness to also increase the per pupil facility allotment. The most glaring weakness of her Administration has been the unwillingness to turn over surplus DCPS facilities to charter schools. While recent previous Mayors Adrien Fenty and Vincent Gray have given buildings in the double digits, I believe that Ms. Bowser has relinquished two. Her almost total avoidance of following the law when it comes to these structures resulted in an End The List Campaign in 2019 that mobilized the charter school community in an effort to force her to do the right thing.

The Mayor has also put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board not to approve new schools. This is an area where the board has to find a way to stand up to her. Finally, she has been exceedingly slow to nominate replacement members to the PCSB.

Ms. Bowser has also been a steadfast supporter of continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school scholarship plan for low income children living in D.C. A 2017 letter from D.C. Chairman Mendelson to the U.S. Congress to bring an end to the vouchers was opposed by the Mayor, and interestingly, was not signed by Councilmember Robert White.

There is one aspect of Mr. White’s proposed education program with which I strongly agree. I have advocated, as he is doing now, that the Office of the State Superintendent should be independent of the Mayor. I think OSSE should be separated from political pressure. However, although we agree on this one concept, I do not believe that education reform would be in steady hands if he won the upcoming election. Despite her failings in the area of public education which I have documented, Muriel Bowser is my choice for Mayor.

Federal money for charter schools is unconstitutional (except in D.C.)

I have read the outcry over the suggested new rules to three components of the United States Department of Education’s Charter School Program. I have seen the protests over them by parents and students at the DOE headquarters and the White House organized by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The language contained in this proposal will almost certainly cut off $440 million annually for charter school openings and expansion. While there is no greater charter school proponent then me, I’m not sad to see the money go.

The charter school movement prides itself in advancing the academic achievement of students, many of whom were failing in traditional public schools. To be consistent with this mission our sector must be sure that is teaching civics in a highly accurate fashion. Here’s where the problem comes in. The United States Constitution’s Article 1 Section 8 delineates the powers of Congress. Support in the way of revenue for public education is no where mentioned.

I know what you are saying: “Mark, Congress has for decades exceeded its authority under the Constitution.” This statement is true, however, it does not make appropriating funds to charter schools the allowable thing to do. Through our pedagogy we impart values to our students. The difference between right and wrong is one of the best lessons that we can teach.

I am also concerned that taking money from the federal government introduces politics into the authorization process. This is exactly what we have seen take place here. The New York Times last Friday ran an exceptionally balanced piece about the new rules written by Erica Green. To understand the motives behind the teachers’ unions anti-charter efforts all you have to know, as Ms. Green points out in her article, is that Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, started a tweet on the subject of these rules with the hashtag #CharterSchoolsFalling. President Joe Biden is a tremendous union supporter.

Yes, it is still a war out there between charter and traditional school supportors. As charter advocates we should never let down our guard. The best way to see our model flourish and grow is to seek support from outside the federal government. I’m sure Elon Musk, Tim Cook, and Jeff Bezos have incentives to see the United States produce well-educated children. As I pointed out in a previous column, Michael Bloomberg has already set a strong example in this regard.

Finally, just to be perfectly accurate, it is fine for the federal government to authorize revenue for charter schools in the District. That is because our Constitution gives Congress power “to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.” It is stated right there in Section 8. 

D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson breaks law when it comes to at-risk student funding; move applauded by DC Charter School Alliance

A few days ago, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed a move by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to increase the amount of money going to at-risk students as part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. Here’s the background:

The reporter states that at-risk students are “those who are homeless or in foster care, whose families qualify for food stamps, and students who are in high school and have been held back at least one year,” and they “account for about 47 percent of the city’s more than 95,000 public school children.” Ms. Stein adds that “The funding in the regular education budget for at-risk students amounts to an extra $3,000 each and is intended to alleviate the effects of poverty, which can make learning more challenging. The money could be used to pay for extra reading specialists, music teachers, or extended day programs.”

There have been calls by others, such as the organization DC Students Succeed, to increase the weight in revenue that schools receive for instructing at-risk students through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. It is the UPSFF that provides the extra $3,000 per pupil that Ms. Stein references. Mr. Mendelson took a different strategy. Again from the Washington Post article on this issue:

“The funding proposal — which the council must approve a second time as part of the city’s overall budget process — would spread an additional $41.6 million over four years across nearly 170 traditional public and charter schools. Unlike most targeted education funds, the money would bypass the school system’s central office and go directly to principals, giving them control over how to spend money on staff and services that could improve student outcomes.”

Ms. Stein explains how it would work:

“Mendelson’s proposal would give extra funding to schools that have a population of at-risk students that exceeds 40 percent. Schools that have populations of at-risk students that exceed 70 percent would receive even more. For example, Savoy Elementary has 265 students. Of those, 225 — or nearly 85 percent — are considered at risk.

In all, the school would receive more than $98,000 under the proposal. That’s on top of the approximately $3,000 each of the 225 at-risk student is allocated through the typical budget process.”

Mr. Mendelson is trying to address an issue that has plagued the traditional public school system. According to Ms. Stein:

“But numerous investigations and reports have determined that the city often spends this money incorrectly, using it to pay for routine costs instead of on programs to supplement basic school offerings. In some instances, that’s because many schools with high concentrations of at-risk students are under-enrolled and smaller schools are more expensive to operate. These schools’ budgets don’t stretch as far as the budgets for larger schools, so principals end up spending the money on basic staffing that other schools can cover with their baseline budgets.”

Here’s the problem. The 1995 D.C. School Reform Act that created charter schools in the District mandates that funding for all public school students go through the UPSFF. Here’s a summary of the law included in the Adequacy Study completed in 2013:

“The requirement that education for all students be funded on a uniform per-student basis, with the dollars following students into and out of whatever school they attend, was enacted into DC law in 1995. The UPSFF was established to carry out the mandate. The formula calculates funding based on students and their characteristics, not on school or local educational agency (LEA) differences. This uniformity requirement applies only to local funding, not to federal or private funding. It affects only DCPS and public charter school operating budgets, not capital budgets and investments. The UPSFF is intended to fund all traditional school-level and system level operations for which DCPS and public charter schools are responsible, including instructional, non instructional (facilities maintenance and operations), and administrative operations.”

Ms. Perry states in her article that Chairman Mendelson referred to his at-risk student funding proposal “the ‘single most important’ new idea in the fiscal year 2023 budget.” The only problem, however, is that the move is illegal in that it directly contradicts the language contained in the School Reform Act.

But breaking the law is obviously not important to the DC Charter School Alliance as long as it involves more money to its schools. The organization tweeted “Thank you @ChmnMendelson & @councilofdc for supporting students with an increase in funding for education! . . .Creating two new concentration weights to support schools serving higher populations of students designated at-risk”

I noticed that the Council also appropriated $300,000 to perform a new Adequacy Study, which is something I called for the other day. Perhaps this new report will call out the serious error Mr. Mendelson made in his effort to help at-risk students.

Time for a new D.C. schools Adequacy Study

The other day I read a statement by Shannon Hodge, executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, calling for the Deputy Mayor for Education to complete a revised Adequacy Study. I could not agree more.

The last one was released in 2013 and it was groundbreaking. The research behind the report demonstrated that the District of Columbia was shy 40,000 quality seats, and it mapped the locations were new high performing classrooms were needed. But the most astonishing part of the work, lead by then Mayor Vincent Gray and my favorite Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, was that it put into print for the first time by the government the fact that charter schools were receiving inequitable funding compared to DCPS. The document pointed out that this was true because although all schools, charters and traditional, were funded at the same level through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, DCPS took advantage for free of government services, such as legal, information technology, and building maintenance, that charters could not access. It was a line of reasoning advanced for years and at every opportunity by Robert Cane, the prior head of Friends for Choice in Urban Schools. Mary Levy went on to quantify this disparity to be about $100 thousand to $125 thousand dollars a year.

The blatant unfairness continues unabated today and led to Eagle Academy PCS, Washington Latin PCS, when I was chair of its board, and the DC Association of Chartered Public School to sue the city to try and recover the revenue; a legal action that was eventually dismissed. Attorney Stephen Marcus led the effort. It was not something that charters wanted to do; we believed we had no other choice.

In addition, the 2013 study was extremely comprehensive in nature in that it tried to figure out exactly what the funding level of the UPSFF should be to eliminate the academic achievement gap in our town. It looked at each component of the per pupil allotment, including the much discussed weight for teaching at-risk students.

A lot has changed over nine years and much has not. The amount of tax revenue going to the two education sectors has gone up tremendously, now projected to exceed in fiscal year 2023 2.2 billion dollars annually. However, with this cash has not come the solution to the inequity that all of us involved in education want desperately to solve. When we do get around to testing our children it is almost certain, especially after two years of pandemic learning, that the difference in proficiency between the affluent and poor of 60 points has only increased.

It is imperative to perform another adequacy study. Let’s determine what the proper UPSFF should be. We should uncover how many quality seats the District needs to provide each and every scholar an exceptional pedagogical experience. How will we react if the number comes back again at 40,000?

DC Charter School Alliance names Hall of Fame members: where is Patricia Brantley?

As part of Charter School Week, over the past few days the DC Charter School Alliance has been announcing additions to the Charter School Hall of Fame. First created by Friends of Choice In Urban Schools back in 2016, the Hall of Fame was formed “to recognize the key individuals whose contributions have helped shape DC’s thriving charter sector.” If ever there was someone that needed to be added to this esteemed group it is Patricia Brantley, the chief executive officer of Friendship PCS. Here are just a few sentences from Ms. Brantley’s biography on the Friendship website:

“Patricia oversees all operations at Friendship, has secured more $95 million in public and private funding, effected cohesion among the 12 campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development. She spearheaded the takeover of Washington’s first multi-campus charter management group, ensuring that hundreds of children could remain in their school of choice.”

Ms. Brantley moved up to CEO at Friendship after serving as its chief operating officer. Here’s what I wrote about that tenure when I interviewed her six years ago:

“Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.”

As I have watched her work, I see Ms. Brantley as a savior to D.C.’s charter school movement. When charters get in trouble and are fighting for their existence, Ms. Brantley comes to their rescue, like a superhero swooping in at the last minute to challenge evil. It started with the takeover at Community Academy PCS, proceeded to Ideal PCS, and most recently expanding Friendship’s online school to medically fragile students desperately needing a virtual option. When the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (City Arts and Prep PCS) was closed by the DC Public Charter School Board, she brought its program into Armstrong PCS. After multiple safety issues came to light at Monument Academy PCS, and it appeared that the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital would literally lose their homes, she engineered a takeover by the Friendship Foundation. Finally, after the PCSB could not see past fear from Mayor Muriel Bowser to open Capital Experience Lab, a new middle and high school charter, Ms. Brantley brought the exciting pedagogical approach to learning into Blow Pierce PCS. She had been serving on its board of directors. Ms. Brantley sets the blazing example of what true leadership looks like.

Actually, when the DC Charter School Alliance started to announce their inductees into the Charter School Hall of Fame, Ms. Brantley’s name should have been first.

D.C. charters about to spend 25K per pupil; they want more

In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. As she has done consistently during her tenure as the city’s chief administrator, Ms. Bowser has increased the Uniform Per Student Funding formula, the baseline that determines how much a school is paid to educate a child for a year, this time by a gigantic 5.87 percent. Her recommendations also include a 2.2 percent jump in the charter school facility allotment. With these augmentations, assuming that the same number of students enroll next term as did in 2022, then the amount that the District spends on teaching one student each term enrolled in a charter school is approximately $24,500. According to the Education Data Initiative, in this country only New York State, at $25,500 per student, spends more.

An organization called DC Students Succeed, a group of over forty groups that work with children, including many charter schools and the DC Charter School Alliance, say the Mayor has not gone far enough. They have a number of recommendations. They call on the Council to add more cash to the UPSFF. The per pupil facility allotment should go up by 3.1 percent. They also want the at-risk weight to improve to 0.37, a number included in the 2013 Adequacy Study, as opposed to the 0.2 number advanced by the Mayor. By the way, the coalition views the term “at-risk” as “pejorative, inaccurate, and inadequate.” They would rather it be changed to “equity weight.”

But wait, there is more. Some schools lack mental health clinicians. A new citywide center is needed for immigrant students so they can navigate our public education system. Increased funding should be allocated for training Black and brown professionals to go into teaching. A program should be created to reduce teacher student loan debt. Initiate a Homeowner Resource Center to steer educators toward affordable housing programs. Form a Public Educator Housing Assistance Program similar to the existing District Employer Assisted Housing Program. Add money to Out-of-School programs to the tune of $25 million. The list is frankly exhausting. You can read the fifteen page details of the requests here.

The calls for more money comes as The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is running television advertisements attacking the U.S. Education Department’s proposed new rules around its charter school support programs. Commented president and CEO Nina Rees, about the move, “This is a sneak attack on charter schools that is politically motivated by special interests seeking to benefit the adults in the system and not the children and families in our country who are clamoring for better education opportunities. Why is the Biden Administration listening to everyone except families?”

If these stipulations are enacted I have no doubt that they will severely limit if not completely block charters from accessing the $440 million annually appropriated by Congress toward new school openings and expansion. However, the commercials make it appear that somehow our movement is entitled to these grants. I would much rather see alternatives to the federal government for financial support. When dependent on the government it is simply too easy for politics to get in the way, which is exactly what we are seeing in this case. The conversation around charters really needs to be focused on improving the quality of public education. With all this talk about money, it appears that the box that the child is standing on to watch the baseball game in the infamous equity cartoon is filled with dollar bills.